The Brownwood Lady Lions turned in their best offensive outing of the young season, but still had to fight off a pesky Merkel Lady Badgers squad down the stretch for a 61-57 victory in Tuesday afternoon's home opener at Warren Gym.
Behind a 38-percent shooting performance (20 of 52), including nine three-pointers, the Lady Lions (4-4) were able to build a 56-40 advantage with 2:48 left in the contest. But Merkel (3-4), led by the three-point shooting of Kinzi Hays and Kaydi Pursley, reeled off the next 11 points and eventually stormed back to close the gap to 58-54 with 21 seconds left.
Hadley Monroe was able to sink a pair of clutch shots from the free throw line — where Brownwood converted 12 of 18 attempts — with 15 seconds left, stretching the advantage back to two possessions, 60-54.
Pursley was fouled with five seconds left and sank three free throws, then the Lady Lions' leading scorer, Mallory Garcia, was hacked with just over a second remaining and knocked down one of two tries at the charity stripe to ice the victory.
“We were trying to chase their shooters off the three-point line and their girls just kept hitting them,” said Lady Lions 10th-year head coach Heather Hohertz. “I can't say anything against our defense, Merkel just made some tough shots against some good defense, but we found a way to win at the end.”
Prior to Tuesday's contest, the Lady Lions had not tallied 50 points in game, with their best effort being a 47-point outing in a victory at Eastland the second game of the season. Against Merkel, Garcia led the charge with 21 points trailed by 11 each from Ryleigh Dalleh and Matyha Thompson, eight from Monroe, six from Kenya Barnes, three from Brooke Price and one point from CarolAnn Hetzel.
“I told them before the game to just relax and play basketball,” Hohertz said. “We came out and had three people in double digits and that's what we have to have to be successful. We've been struggling offensively so it was really big to get to 60 points.”
For Merkel, Pursley scored a game-high 29 points and Hays contributed 16 as the Lady Badger duo drained a dozen three-pointers.
“We can't have that many three-pointers hit on us, especially when we talked about that going into the game,” Hohertz said. “We talked about the shooters so we have to execute the game plan and make sure that doesn't happen.”
Brownwood capped both the first and second periods with the final seven points. In the opening quarter, trailing 12-7, a technical foul called for a Merkel player wearing earrings on the court resulted in two Garcia free throws at the 1:40 mark. A bucket from Barnes followed, then Dalleh hit the go-ahead three-pointer to give the Lady Lions a 14-12 edge at the end of the quarter.
In the second, down 24-22, the Lady Lions forced turnovers on three consecutive possessions, as Garcia and Thompson provided the points to boost Brownwood to a 29-24 halftime edge.
The third period appeared as if Merkel might be the team to finish with a hot hand, but Price's trey with three seconds to go gave Brownwood a 41-33 lead heading to the fourth.
Barnes scored the first points of the final quarter to give Brownwood its first double-digit lead, 43-33, with exactly seven minutes to go.
Both teams then began to warm up, particularly from beyond the three-point arc, where the squad traded buckets. The Lady Lions, however, strung together a trio of treys in succession, using a quick nine-point burst to open a 56-40 edge with just under three minutes to go.
Merkel then caught fire as Brownwood went scoreless for a 2:15 stretch, but the Lady Lions' lead proved too great for the Lady Badgers to overcome.
The Lady Lions return to action Tuesday when they host Jim Ned as they pursue back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
“It's a been a process,” Hohertz said. “We have a lot of young kids that don't have a lot of varsity experience. We also played some tough competition the first seven games. I think they're buying in, they're trusting and believing and they're trying to get where we need to get. Today was a big step in that direction.”